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Ring of Joy or Issues

LOOKING FOR A SUITABLE MATCH IN UNSUITABLE CONDITIONS

Looking for a match? The right match? And you and your family are in full search mode? But can’t find the Mr Right or the Miss Right?  
And with every new proposal, the decision gets tougher. The guy or the girl isn’t the one you are looking for. Or, you’re OK with the proposal, but there is some issue from either family. So your vexation multiplies. And the hunt for a life partner — ‘a suitable life partner’ — gets even more thorny. It stretches into months. And then years.Sometimes many years.
The agony keeps piling up on you. And on your family as well.
Then there is another proposal. Another round of cross enquiry. Another set of conditions. Another round of meetings.Another ordeal of wait and watch. Another time the proposal fails to come off. Another bout of anguish.
And, over to another proposal.
The process repeats indefinitely. You end up almost like a wreck, cracking up under the emotional pressure. “Why isn’t it working?” — you ask yourself over and over again. The answer is unforthcoming. Only the question echoes back. Louder and more nastily.
That’s just briefly the story of most youth looking to tie the knot. Yes, exceptions — those who have taken the love marriage route. And also, many of those in the rural areas who are relatively free from the ills inflicting the city’s social life. Well, you can say, getting a suitable match has become a critical problem in the city. 
But, behind this brief story of torment of finding the right match, there are scores of reasons.
It starts with your family getting in touch with the matchmaker — the traditional menzuimyeour. Sometimes, several of them. The matchmakers add you up in the pages of their little diaries. You have your very own middleman book profile. 
I know it because I have been on these pages for three years now. All the details are there in rows of entries. Some neatly done.Some barely legible.Some critical that the other family should know. Some so stupid, so weird that you conclude something is wrong with the society. “Is it a tender for a commodity or a proposal for a life partner?” you ask yourself — half in joke, half in woe. 
Zara has been looking for a match for over a year. She is also there on the middleman’s diary. An entry, she was asked to put in there, was her school which she left some 15 years ago. The reason for this is not difficult to understand. 

“If you are from one of the elite schools, you would find a better match. It is sick, but that’s how it works here in Kashmir,” Zara tells me.
 Unlike most girls, Zara was frank about what she is going through in finding a match. I found her almost done with her patience. “At times I just feel it’s better to stay single.” She pauses and adds, “At other times I feel I should blindly trust my fate.” 
“And then,” she goes on, “there are times where I get hell scared.”
Another warped problem has kicked into our society over the decades. Today boys and girls have a lot of exposure compared to what it was, say 30 years ago. They are more educated, more emancipated. There is also a relatively free intermingling of genders right from school days —both virtual and real. They have a more than fair idea of each other — psychologically and socially. So they know what will make a ‘good match’. Psychiatrist, 

Dr Mushtaq Marghoob  says these days boys and girls  “fantasize” a lot about each other because of modern day exposure. “They think they can marry anybody from anywhere,” says Dr Marghoob.
Today youth of marriageable age look for the best attributes in their potential life partners. Most of the times the criteria is pretty too heavy from either side — that sends expectations through the roof. It is like bidding. The wedding ring will go to the one who has the best of everything to offer. 
Hina has been looking for a match for sometime.  I find her excited about the whole process. Probably because she has ramped up her expectations about her prospective groom. “I want a good looking person who can take care of me and at the same time accept me as I am,” Hina tells me. “And,” she adds as a caveat, “I can’t settle for anything less.” 
But why can’t she? And why can’t so many boys and girls looking for a match be a little more accommodative and compromising? 
DrMarghoob ascribes this trend to youth  becoming increasingly independent-minded. “Today children will tell you ‘I am handling the world myself and I am the best judge to decide about my life’,” says DrMarghoob. He believes the likes and dislikes of youth  have changed. “These days people look for physical appearance, a bungalow, business or job the other individual has. Earlier, the stress was on genuine qualities in the individual,” explains DrMarghoob. 
ShehzadaSaleem, sociologist working in the Social Welfare Department says this is because the society is changing at every level. He sees the raised expectations as “normal.” “Men and women work shoulder to shoulder so high expectations have to be there. For example, a working woman would want a man with a higher pay grade than her. It is basic human nature,” explains Saleem. 
Elders will tell you how it was a few decades ago. There were only some prerequisites from either side that made marriage an easy sailing affair. 
Abdul Rahim and Haleema have been married for 40 years now. They say back then getting married was not a complication. “Your parents would find a good match in the relation or among friends and within no time you would be married,” says Haleema. She saw her husband for the first time after marriage. “Love and understanding were developed after marriage and sometimes even after you had kids. And it would work well,” she tells me. And what were the overriding criteria while looking for a match, I ask her. “Sharafat,” says Haleema. She and her husband are sad about the way materialistic status has become the criteria in today’s marriage market. “Az agar czoorteaasimagarpoanseaasyes, kooryaledkedinas(Today people will marry off their son or daughter even in a family of thieves if it is moneyed),” they say half jokingly with a hint of black humour.

Marriage or Business?

  The fulcrum of arranged marriages in Kashmir is the traditional menzuimyeour— the marriage broker. They are usually more informed about the workings of the society than a sociologist. Their dealings with families across the social spectrum have made them an expert of sorts on matters of fixing marriages.
Feroz, a matchmaker, tells me about the prerequisites people are seeking out there in marriages. He neatly puts people in various categories. “There are people who just consider economic status. Others make Khandaan the main issue. Some make it clear that they want girls who are in jobs,” says Feroz.  And dowry? “Yes, there are people who do not ask for anything expect dowry.” But what should matter most, Feroz’s puts it in his final observation, “There are very few people who look for a good person.”
A good person — anyone?
Sibtain is one who is looking for a good person. “She should gel well in my family. If she is career-oriented that’s alright, but she should be a good person first,” Sibtain tells me. But the question is, will that be the only criterion for his family? Sibtain says yes. 
But that is not the case for a majority of youth looking for a match. 
 For most parents, marriage of their sons and daughters is about other considerations.
 “I want my daughter to have a good life. Khandaan and a good economic status matter,” says Taslima who is on the hunt for a match for her daughter. She believes love fizzles out after sometime and “material things matter in the long run.” 
Such approach makes a basic human emotion irrelevant and the real motive of this conjugal bond is lost in the process. Popular poet and social commentator, Zareef Ahmed Zareef mourns the fact that piety and simplicity have gone out of our society which in turn, he adds, has complicated the marriage process. “Our values have changed. Marriage has today become a business. It is a shame 40 year-olds are unmarried in our society,” says Zareef.  He feels getting a match for one’s daughter is a particularly tricky matter. “Consider a person who has a son and daughter. While marrying his daughter he is the most humble person, but when it’s is his son’s turn, he becomes very demanding and dominating.” Zareef portrays the materialism that plagues our society in his archetypal satirical poetic style. In the same lines he captures the game of unabashed deception marriages have become:

Korenchegodewearivpriczaan
Nosh koorkatye service karaan
Kyah grade chuskicznaukri
Taarangareetaarangaree…
(The first thing in-laws ask the girl,
Which office do you work in?
What pay do you get and what is the job like?
It is all deception and deception.) 

An assessment of the society shows its entire priority list has radically changed over the past few decades. This is markedly obvious in the marriage market. And unashamedly too. Material things are increasingly taking precedence over all other things that actually go into two souls coming together in the nuptial bond.  
Zara laments these considerations that have become benchmarks in our marriage process. “It is so sad that everything is considered except the two people who have to spend life together. You look for everything material, while things that truly bring happiness in married life are hardly given a thought.” 
There is another priority shift in the society that contributes to marriages getting delayed and complicated. 
Decades ago marriage of children was a focal point for parents. That has gradually been replaced by considerations of education and career building. Marriage automatically gets relegated to the back burner. This has become a striking feature of city life. 
Isra is 28 and wants to get married before she steps into her thirties. She feels marriage-related problems arise because “you can’t talk to your parents about marriage.” Isra thinks parents have a huge responsibility in ensuring their children are settled well and early on in life. “But,” she says, “in our social make up you can’t open up to them about your marriage plans. They take it in some other sense.” Isra complains parents don’t tell their children about the importance of marriage in life. 
Wise words, one would say.
Sociologist Saleem also finds it disturbing. “It’s a weird social construct we follow in Kashmir. Young men and women well into thirties are considered children by their families. I am not against family system, but,” says Saleem, “youth here don’t get the freedom to take critical decisions about their marriage.”

Thirty minutes    

Arranged marriages usually happen through extended back channel stuff between the two families. If all works out well, a meeting is then set up for the boy and girl to ‘see’ each other. Typically they get half an hour or so to speak with each other. Thirty minutes with an absolute stranger, and then take life’s most crucial decision.  
Feriha was engaged through a similar process. But she finds this practice deeply flawed. She thinks economic status and looks aren’t the only criteria to consider a proposal. “Individuals should be given more time before they actually commit to marriage. How can you expect two strangers to take this decision over a cup of coffee?” asks Feriha. She feels it is better to take time to know the person than “regret your whole life.” Feriha is incensed at homilies from elders that, ‘Shaadikebaad sab theekhojayega.’ “Butkaisehoga when the two haven’t sincerely accepted each other?” she questions.
Feriha is one year into her engagement, but the way it happened, it isn’t panning out well for her. She was candid about it. “My fiancé is a beautiful human being and makes a great son and brother. But unfortunately we just do not connect.” Feriha wants this process changed. “People take time to open up. It takes time to know a person you’ve never met before.”
What strains the marriage equation further in our society is the cheap ‘bussinessification’ of the marriage making process. The compulsions, some self-imposed, some thrust by the other family, of reckless give and take have become so routine and institutionalised that nobody talks about them anymore. The girl’s family finds itself at a serious disadvantage in this scenario. Marriage proposals of a lot many otherwise highly eligible girls miscarry because of shameless demands from the boy’s family. This often leads to other complications like late marriages. The girl’s emotional self is shattered and her biological clock takes an irreparable beating. Even if the proposal goes through, the groom’s family resorts to what only one word can define: extortion. A family looking for a match for their daughter so aptly sums up this commoditisation of marriage, “It is a taavan or plague sweeping through the society,” the family tells me. It takes a bit of a deep look at the society to see how pock-marked the social fabric is because of this ‘plague’.
All is not lost though. There are examples of youth standing up for a simple marriage where the premium is on the person and not on his or her economic well-being.  
Rameez married a year ago. He went for a simple marriage and did not succumb to any pressure. “I made sure my marriage is conducted reasonably and there is no give and take between the families,” says Rameez. “Has it worked out?” I ask him. He goes into a deep thought, probably looking for a philosophical reply. But he gives me a short one, “I don’t know the answers yet.”
Yes, there may be no answers for some questions even when a man and a woman spend their entire lives married together. But, there are answers for questions that complicate finding a ‘suitable’ match in the unsuitable conditions we have created around us. The questions are with the entire society. But, the answers are with only two persons: the boy and the girl who have to spend their lives together.

  • Title: Ring of Joy or Issues
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